The last article, as unusual as it seems, served as a prelude for something we will talk about today (and in the future, too, as it has its own segment). Game localization is a wonderful thing, because it lets people share similar experiences around the world, even if they are separated by different languages and cultures. However, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it 100% right. It will never be THE SAME experience, there’s always that 1%, or even 0.5%, that will be off. There’s just no way to translate everything perfectly, or present some of the more intricate or subtle cultural concepts – to experience those, you actually have to know the culture and language the game originates from, at least to some extent. Pokemon is no exception, and even though the new generation was released worldwide, it still can’t defend itself from missing stuff across translations.
Pokemon X & Y brought a brand new mechanic into the fold – Mega Evolution. Now I won’t get into how some people like the idea (me being one of them), while other look at it with disgust. I decided to talk about one specific Mega Evolution to show you how it can be used to complement and finish the design of an already existing Pokemon. On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of something being completely lost in translation (or, in this case, impossible to translate).
Ampharos, the electric, shaved ram! (Luckily it’s not a cat, eh? There would be no end to the puns).
Numerous Pokemon from generations I – IV got a Mega Evolution, Ampharos being one of them. While it’s certainly a nice addition for the jolly fellow, many people were confused as hell as to its typing – Electric/Dragon. That, and the weird fluffy tail/hair made some people question the logic and sanity of GameFreak.
It makes him look a bit like a JOKE, don’t you think? Well, probably because that’s exactly what Ampharos is.
Now, to those that adore Ampharos, I am not insulting one of your favourite Pokemon, no. I like him a lot myself. The thing is, Ampharos’ design is a result of a pun. A pun that makes sense only in Japanese (even Chinese and Korean, both being direct translations, miss the joke).
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a look at the design of the whole family Ampharos belongs to.
Mareep, the electric sheep! An interesting idea indeed, but what could’ve inspired it? There are few possible ideas worthy of mentioning.
First, the most obvious and plausible one (and the one that its ability, Static, and Pokedex entries all point to) is the property of wool to build up static charges. A simple idea, but works really well with the species and its type.
Mareep can also allude to the golden fleece of Greek mythology. Long story short, it was the fleece of the golden, winged ram named Chrysomallos. Chrysomallos rescued Phrixus and brought him to Colchis, where he sacrificed it to Zeus (and then had it stolen by the Argonauts). It would explain the yellow color (especially on Ampharos. Then, many electric types are yellow, and Flaaffy doesn’t really fit in this picture), and the association with Zeus fits perfectly with the electric type.
Another popular idea is that Mareep is inspired by the Electric Sheep from the novel by Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. That book served as the loose basis for the movie Blade Runner (and then three books that act as sequels to both the original novel and the movie). Mareep would then be the electric sheep that replaced the Harrison F… I mean Rick Deckard’s trusted friend (if you don’t get it, I won’t explain – read/watch both).
That’s quite a lot to say about a simple electric sheep, no? Well, it doesn’t end here, as we didn’t even pick apart Mareep’s name origin. And that one is very clever, at least in English.
In Japanese, it’s メリープ (Meri-pu, or Merriep). As you can see, its name in English is quite similar. Both of them seem to allude to Mary from the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. You may even think they’re the same, but “Mareep” is actually richer, as it contains an anagram of “ampere”, a unit of electric current. This is the case in which the original reference was kept and then enriched with another reference. Cool, huh? Well, I guess it had to be balanced out by nature, somehow, because this same evolutionary line contains an example of reversed situation, where a joke from original, Japanese name, just couldn’t make it anywhere outside of Japan.
We interrupt the broadcast to inform you that we can’t say anything interesting about Flaaffy, other than that it’s partially sheared Mareep and that its name would make a good brand for AA batteries in the Pokemon world.
Also, as a side-note, I like how Mareep line’s ears are designed, conical in shape and striped in pattern. They have always reminded me of those desktop lava-lamps. We’re getting SERIOUSLY off the track here, so let’s get back to the main dish.
Ampharos’ Japanese name is Denryu. The pun inside it is that, depending on how you write it, it can mean either…
電流 – electric current
電竜 – electric dragon
It was all an innocent pun before Generation VI, as Ampharos, other than looking a bit like one, had nothing to do with dragons. It was a sheared ram that could learn Outrage by a move tutor in Black 2/White 2.
Generation VI with Mega Evolution at its disposal could finally go back to this joke and deliver the punchline. Too bad that it shared the fate of countless other language puns and got lost in the translation. We DID get some compensation though, as Ampharos contains the reference to the Pharos of Alexandria (or, to be honest, any φάρος, which is Greek for lighthouse) and it goes well with its regular form design, having the glowing tail and what not. It doesn’t fit that well when MegaEvolution is introduced though.
That being said, MegaAmpharos is the perfect example of how Mega Evolution is not only a device to power up the already overpowered or hype up the already overhyped Pokemon, but also as a means for GameFreak to go back in time, look at some of their classic or unique designs and breathe new life into them.
Next time: “You were playing Red and Blue all along! PART 2”. Look out for it!